Motherboard Upgrade Reasons

A motherboard is the backbone of a PC system, connecting all its various components and peripherals and influencing your choice of precisely what these might be. It is, of critical importance both in terms of system performance and connectivity.

It follows, therefore, that there are numerous reasons for deciding to upgrade your motherboard:

  • to enable an upgrade to a faster processor
  • to allow use more or faster memory
  • to support a faster AGP graphics card
  • to support the latest internal bus technologies, such as ATA/133 or Serial ATA
  • to enable you to use external peripherals using USB or FireWire technology
  • to increase your expansion slot potential.

Apart from performance/connectivity factors, the principal compatibility issues that will govern your choice of motherboard are the type of CPU you want it to support – Intel or AMD – and whether it’ll work in your existing system case.

Depending on its age, you may find that your system case may limit your choice when it comes to a motherboard upgrade, since it may be designed to support only one of the two mainstream motherboard form factors of the past decade.

The Baby AT was the dominant motherboard standard during the period 1993-1997. It shares many of the characteristics of its predecessor – the AT form factor – both having a single, full-sized keyboard connector soldered onto the board their serial and parallel ports attached to the system case and connected to the motherboard itself through pin headers. The principal difference was in size, a BAT board being significantly narrower than an AT model, at 8.5in compared to 12in.

Issues were eventually to emerge with respect to the BAT design though, principally concerning the positioning of the CPU and memory sockets, which often prohibited the use of longer bus cards, thereby restricting choice and flexibility.

The ATX form factor was designed to address these issues. Fundamentally, the ATX design rotates that of the BAT through 90 degrees, relocating the processor away from the expansion slots – which can therefore accommodate full-length cards – and allowing the longer side of the board to be used to host more on-board I/O.

While some system cases can accommodate both a BAT and ATX form factors, it is their power supply unit that will limit your choice to one or the other, since this will be designed either for use either with the pair of near-identical 6-pin connectors used by the BAT form factor or the single 20-pin connector used by ATX motherboards.

Indeed, PSU compatibility is even more of an issue for Pentium 4 based systems, since many of these will require a new new 2×2, 4-pin 12V connector in addition to a standard 2×10, 20-pin ATX power connector and may – depending on the chipset they use – also require a separate 6-pin AUX power connector.

It is for this reason that it will sometimes be sensible to upgrade your system case at the same time as your motherboard!